Not every musician starts out on the musical path. Some, most, have other options growing up. For Jeffery Straker, that was plant biology? Yes, that’s an odd one but hey, it’d be weirder to not have a passion for something else. Actually Straker may’ve ended up your local dentist, but obviously changed his mind saying, “…the prospect was a bit dull even though the money seemed pretty sexy.”
Now that Jeffery’s moved past the plants and teeth, he’s set his sights on music by placing a firm grip on the Canada scene. So keep on reading on to find out what this artist you’d likely hear on a Vh1 countdown has to say about his trip to Africa, taking over America and more.
Kendra: Growing up with a dad as an auctioneer had to be awesome. Was there ever an item he auctioned off that you really wanted needed?
Jeffery Straker: Yes an auctioneer father was unique indeed. I went to a lot of auction sales and often had the job of holding things up in the air for people to see better while they were bidding. It was like being a Barker Beauty on the Price is Right – except not near as glamorous. There were always things I wanted at these sales which was the problem. I had to ultimately learn that if I got everything I thought I wanted, I’d have been a 10 year old hoarder. Someone once brought a puppy to a sale and was trying to give it away and I did end up getting that.
Kendra: For those who aren’t familiar with your music, you have an Elton John feel. I’m going to assume you’re a fan. So if you were to describe your current state of mind with an Elton track, which would it be and why?
Jeffery: I am indeed an Elton fan. I like his earlier stuff a lot. I always thought that even though Bernie Taupin was the lyricist that Elton contributed a little to the lyrics too. But recently I watched an interview where he said he has zero input into the lyrics. Like NONE at all. It’s fascinating as he really sings them with such conviction, but the music is his forte. My current state of mind via an Elton track would be “Country Comfort” from Tumbleweed Connection. I’m in Toronto right now and I’ve been so, so busy with touring this year that I’ve not had much time at all to visit my parents’ farm. It’s not at all that the setting they live in is like the lyrics of this sing – but it kind of takes me there.
Kendra: Is it possible to place the musical elements of your latest record, Vagabond, in one place? Musically, does it sound like one place in particular…or would that be ironic if it did?
Jeffery: I’d say that the album is less so in once place and more likely to be described as in constant motion. It’s a “seeking” and “journeying” sort of experience that I’d say the music creates. And it’s possible that the journey is an escape. Thematically the lyrics aim to do that too.
Kendra: Speaking of vagabonds, how were you received when you played in Africa?
Jeffery: Africa was a great experience. I was in Ghana and did 5 shows as well as some school workshops. The shows were (strangely) well received. Word of mouth worked really well to get people out – which was great as there wasn’t really any other good way of getting word out. The biggest show was in a nice outdoor amphitheater for about 350 people and was supported by the local Alliance Francaise. The smallest was a house concert. I was really surprised how open people were to this music that was so unfamiliar to them. Overall the people were so welcoming and nice and clearly wanted to help me have a great experience, which I did. One of the weirdest things that happened (there were a few – lol) was having bats fly over the stage at the open-air amphitheater as the sun went down over the show. I don’t like bats on the best of days, never mind during a show. That was only slightly distracting…
Kendra: Playing over 100 shows around Canada a year, what do you do on the road to keep from dying of boredom, other than write music?
Jeffery: Distances between cities/towns in Canada are long – especially compared to the Eastern US or most of the US for that matter. I have a well-stocked iPod and download a few podcasts too to help pass the time. It’s often me doing the driving when I tour solo or duo and even when it’s a gig that has a full band I tend to end up driving. So in doing that, writing songs doesn’t get much chance. One interesting thing I’ve found is that when I turn off the stereo and let my mind drift, that the state of being in motion somehow REALLY gets my creative juices flowing. Loads of song ideas come into my head. I do capture them in little snippets on my iPhone and go back to them when I have time.
Kendra: With all the success you’ve had in Canada, what’s the game plan to take over the US?
Jeffery: “Take over” is such strong language – how about “nudge it into my musical embrace?” I’ve done some one-off shows in the US this year (Las Vegas, Maui) but haven’t toured there in a proper full multi-date trip since about 2007 when I did 9 shows on the East coast which I really enjoyed. I’m really focused on building a substantial audience in Canada so I keep crisscrossing up here. I do want to do more US shows though in a proper tour and can definitely see it happening in the next 1-2 years.
Kendra: I loved the idea behind Songs from Highway 15. Did you ever go back and give the album to the people you saw along the way and inspired the songs?
Jeffery: Oh yes I did indeed. I actually performed a few shows in towns along the road and they were really well received. I loved how people found themselves in the songs.
Kendra: What’s the immediate future look like for you right now?
Jeffery: I have a lot of shows through fall 2013 that take me across Canada. There is a Christmas single coming out this holiday season that we’ll hopefully get some radio play from (fingers crossed), and a big show with a full symphony orchestra this October too. I’ve also been doing a tone of writing and co-writing as 2014 will see a new album. The administrative work of a solo indie music career is a BEAST so that takes a lot of time too.
Kendra: If you had to make a mixtape for a vagabond heading across Canada, which five songs would have to be on it?